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Reducing carbon footprints one house at a time

November 30, 2011
The Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - High heating bills and cold drafts are two of the primary reasons homeowners turn to Jeff Flam of Weather Tight Home Energy Services LLC.

Flam, who is a certified Home Energy Rater, specializes in comprehensive energy audits that consist of a whole-house evaluation, diagnostic testing, and cost-effective recommendations and work specifications.

"The idea is to evaluate the energy use of the home by creating a computer generated model of the home that can project where energy is being wasted and used inefficiently," he said.

Article Photos

Photos courtesy Jeff Flam
A blower door is installed in the exterior door of a home to measure air leakage and find air leakage sites.

The model can then be used to predict changes in energy use when energy features of the home are changed, such as increasing wall insulation or upgrading to a higher efficiency furnace.

The initial process begins with a free in -home consultation and a two-page questionnaire to determine if a full comprehensive energy audit is needed. To proceed with the audit, information about the energy features of the home are collected. These include building envelope features (windows, doors, insulation, ducts), and characteristics and ages of space heating and cooling equipment, water heating equipment, and ventilation equipment. Diagnostic testing is also performed by using a blower door, duct blaster, combustion analyzer and an infrared camera.

The blower door is one of the most important pieces of equipment. It is designed to measure the air tightness of buildings and to help locate air leakage sites. Air leakage can account for 5 percent to 40 percent of the total cost of heating or cooling a home. The benefits of controlling air leakage include saving energy, increasing comfort, protecting the insulation's thermal integrity, and preventing moisture migration into building cavities.

"The goal of controlling air leakage is to determine where the leaks cross the exterior envelope of the home and seal that area off," Flam said.

The ideal technique for finding air leaks is to use an infrared camera with the blower door. As long as the air being sucked in through the leaks is either warmer or cooler than the interior of the house, the area surrounding the leakage path will change temperature and show up on the infrared scanner screen.

"One of the most important tests that should be done during the audit is the combustion safety test," Flam said.

This test is critical because of the potential of severe health effects from improperly venting appliances, including carbon monoxide poisoning. Naturally drafting appliances (furnace or water heater) rely on a natural draft to exhaust flue gases out of the home. If the area where the appliances are located has a negative pressure, then there is the potential for spillage or backdrafting. If the area does not pass the test, then the homeowner is notified to have the problem fixed immediately.

When the process of gathering information about the home and all diagnostic testing is completed, the computer model of the home generates an energy analysis for space heating and cooling, water heating, and electrical usage of lights and appliances. One of the most useful tools of this program is the improvement analysis report which provides a summary of the home's existing and proposed energy costs based on the installation of recommended energy improvements; as well as the economics of implementing the individual improvements, including net annual savings, savings to investment ratio (SIR) and simple payback (SP).

"When I worked for a builder and we did energy improvements on homes, there was no way to measure the cost effectiveness or energy savings of those improvements other than waiting for utility bills to tell the story," Flam said.

The improvement analysis report gives these answers immediately and helps the homeowner make an informed decision about implementing the recommended energy measures.

All of this information is compiled and organized into a binder that is presented to the homeowner. One of the many benefits of a home energy rating is that it provides a way for homeowners or home buyers to compare the energy use between rated homes. The home receives a score on a home energy rating system (HERS) index based on its energy efficiency. For example, the average American home score is 134 and a home built to the energy code would score 100. The lower the number equates into a more efficient home. A zero-energy home represents a rating of 0.

The HERS index is a recognized tool in the mortgage industry and gives home buyers the opportunity to include the cost of energy improvements in the mortgage, allowing the new homeowner to immediately benefit from lower energy bills and a more comfortable home.

Home energy ratings can be used to rate new homes under the Energy Star Program (energystar.gov).

This applies to homes that are ready to be built. The process begins with creating a model of the home based on the house plans to determine if it qualifies for energy star certification. If it doesn't, then changes can be made to satisfy the requirements. "Throughout the building process, I work closely with the builder and document the building process through inspections and photos," Flam said.

When the home is finished, diagnostic testing and checklists are completed. Energy Star Certification benefits the homeowner by assuring them that their home is safe, durable, energy efficient, and was verified by an independent third party. The builder benefits by showing homeowners their commitment to build quality, energy-efficient homes.

"I've worked with several builders in the area to certify their homes under the energy star program, including Habitat for Humanity homes," he said.

Flam, who is a licensed contractor, can provide homeowners with energy upgrade services or will help facilitate the process by working with other contractors and explain what is expected from the scope of the work report.

Flam is a Michigan Saves authorized contractor for the Michigan Saves Home Energy Loan Program. (michigansaves.org)

The program provides an affordable, easy financing solution to homeowners for qualifying energy efficiency and renewable improvements. Loan amounts range from $1,000-$20,000 for a period of 10 years or less and at a 7 percent APR. The first step in the process is to decide what energy improvements are needed and if they are available from the pre-qualified improvement list. Another option is to conduct an energy audit on the home and use the recommended energy improvements from the improvement analysis report. The cost of the audit can be rolled into the loan. Step two is to complete the loan application and get a decision within minutes with the help of Flam initiating the process. Once the loan is approved, the contractor makes the improvements and is paid after the work is done to the homeowner's satisfaction.

Flam, who became a certified RESNET (resnet.us) home energy rater in June of 2009, opened Weather Tight Home Energy Services LLC in May of 2010.

"I chose to become a RESNET home energy rater because I wanted homeowners to be able to make informed decisions on energy improvements to their homes," he said. "And through my experiences of working for other contractors, specializing in energy efficiency, I can bring that added understanding of how the house works as a system, each component of the house contributing to that 'whole house system.'"

Contact Weather Tight Home Energy Services LLC at 482-2951 or 281-2840. Find it on Facework at Weather Tight Home Energy Services.

Editor's note: This feature is part of a paid advertising package purchased by Weather Tight Home Energy Services LLC of Houghton. Businesses interested in being featured on the Business page may call Yvonne Robillard at 483-2220.

 
 

 

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